Fred Francis

Fred Francis

Francis moved to the director's chair beginning with "Two and Two Make Six" and "Vengeance" (both 1962), but he soon became typecast as a director of horror films. He continued to demonstrate his touch with a vibrant palate of hues making for vivid images, even with the most banal of material. His work included such films as "The Skull" (1965), "The Deadly Bees" (1966), "They Came From Beyond Space" (1967), "Dracula Has Risen From the Grave" (1968), Joan Crawford's last film, "Trog" (1970), and the original "Tales From the Crypt" (1972), which included five stories of mayhem based on an old comic strip. Francis also directed numerous TV episodes, particularly of "The Saint" (syndicated, 1963), and "Star Maidens" (syndicated, 1977), but he all but abandoned directing in the late 70s, frustrated at not being able to secure a more substantive assignment. It was not until "Last Respects" (HBO, 1996), the story of greed and hatred between sisters, that Francis was given a project with some depth of character. Francis returned triumphantly to work as a director of photography in 1980, capturing with subdued, deeply moving lighting the essence of "The Elephant Man" for director David Lynch. On "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1981), Francis' cinematography had a fraught romantic feel. By the end of the 80s, he was in full swing as a cinematographer once again, notably with Edward Zwick's Civil War drama "Glory" (1989), for which he earned his second Oscar. Cool, yet colorful, the lighting of the film captured the vigor of war with the romanticism of Robert Gould Shaw's vision of his mission. It was a film that presented a noble heroism, in which the light of the sun guides. Francis caged the darkness for Martin Scorsese's 1991 remake of "Cape Fear," borrowing from the techniques he developed in horror films, including the frightening last sequence in which a boat is enveloped by pitch darkness from which villain Robert De Niro emerges. In 1992, Francis shot "School Ties," painting a contrast between the grimy industrial city of Scranton, Pennsylvania, from the which the Jewish teen quarterback emerges and the sunny, idyllic world of the all-WASP prep school which he enters with a sense of wonder. The film begins with a mood montage that sets Scranton as a gloomy location, its row houses looking almost like the prototype British inner city. Scranton is seen as dark and overcast throughout. The sun pierces the sky gradually as David (Brendan Fraser) sets out for his new school, and becomes almost heavenly when he reaches it. Yet, at the end, when he has survived the anti-Semitic attack of his peers, the school is no longer bathed in sun, but merely a cleaner reality. Francis went on to serve as director of photography on Bob Hoskins' "Rainbow" (1996). In the 80s and 90s, Francis also shot a handful of prestige TV productions, notably "The Executioner's Song" (NBC, 1982), and "The Plot to Kill Hitler" (CBS, 1990), both for director Lawrence Schiller. He returned to the big screen capturing the majestic beauty of America's heartland in David Lynch's "The Straight Story" (1999).